When Google doubled its referral bonus from $2,000 to $4,000 you'd expect that many of their employees would be flocking to Facebook and LinkedIn to let all their old high school and college classmates know about openings.  Afterall, $4,000 will net you a lot towards a good family vacation, or just about max out your IRA contributions for the year.  

However, it's not a surprise that these innovative employees weren't at all turned on by the thought of more money, writes Lazlo Bock in his book Work Rules!

Wait a minute Robbie, isn't that why they work at Google in the first place?  

Admittedly, yes--and no.

The real crux of the situation was that they felt more like they were entering a sweepstakes, than they were referring a close former colleague who was an excellent fit for the new position. Referrals were sent into a black hole, where they never heard any follow up from management unless their candidate was chosen.

Instead of feeling like they needed the money, they dreaded filling out the paperwork and making the extra effort. So what motivated them?

In the end, Google was able to ascertain that the employees who worked for them, cared less about monetary incentives, and needed more direction by being asked to answer simple questions. This led to them implementing two key tactics.

First, Instead of randomly asking for more referrals, Google prompted their employees into providing better recommendations with specific questions. Instead of saying do you know any great finance people? They'd ask something along the lines of who's the best numbers person you know in Los Angeles? This helped them get a better referral rate every time. This makes people remember instantly who they've worked with and why they were special.  

Second, they put recruiters in the room with them and had dozens of employees sift through social media channels to see if they had any good fits. With instant gratification an arm's reach away, employees were happier to assist because recruiters reached out on the spot.

It's about more than just the paycheck.

Employees don't want more money, if they can have more of an impact instead.  Office perks are nice, such as a nap room or even a $4,000 incentive to reach out to old friends on social media--but the real motivations that employees need are consistent acknowledgement that their voices are being heard.

When employees feel like they had a hand in helping make a great hire, and can see that their opinions are being acted upon--it is a great way to motivate people intrinsically to want to speak up.

The other thing that was integral to their success was that they took immediate action.

If an employee feels like their company is going to address their concerns right away, it makes for more meaningful dialogue.

And it makes employees feel empowered bringing something to their managers should something more serious like harassment, or unsafe working environments occur.

In theory, money is the biggest motivator.  But in practice, feeling like your opinions mean something, and seeing the results of your suggestions are the two biggest takeaways from Google's experiment with referral increases.

When I was working for large corporations, the referral bonuses were always raised, but it never really motivated me to take action. Once I was called to do on-campus recruiting at my alma mater, Purdue University, I felt much more involved and I went out of my way to find candidates that would be a good fit for the company I was working at.

The feeling of helping someone else land a job at a dream company is a better feeling than money can provide.

Published on: Apr 23, 2018
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